I am honored to write a blog series I’m entitling “Wisdom of the Hive Mind”, in which I will be addressing various issues related to postpartum and perinatal issues. For this series, I have the pleasure of interviewing mothers about their challenges, struggles, surprises and joys related to pregnancy and the months following birth. None of these women are clients of mine, but all are courageous and beautiful mothers with their own unique stories to tell. Some information has been edited or redacted to protect the women’s identity. Thanks to you all who have taken the time to open up about your own journeys through motherhood. It truly is an honor.
This week in the series I interviewed a woman I’ll call Andrea (an alias). Andrea’s story highlights the experience of becoming a first time mom, and some of the challenges that may arise adjusting to motherhood. Here is part of her story:
“So I had never seen or held a baby before. I had no idea how to take care of my baby at first. And unfortunately had no one but my husband (who was in the same boat as me, also not knowing how to take care of an infant). My mother insisted she would be there for me post labor, but was not. She rarely came over, and when she did, she was uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do or how to help me. She would often only stay for an hour and then go home, leaving me exhausted and desperately needing advice. I didn’t know how to sleep with the baby around. I would maybe get four hours of sleep every 24 hours for the first three weeks. I just constantly nursed him. He was back at his birth weight within the first three days of his life. After that, he quickly put on weight! Eventually I got in my groove, and four months in I was feeling perfectly comfortable with my motherhood.”
Andrea’s story highlights so many commonalities. Unless you live in a culture where multigenerational households are common, or you grew up helping care for younger siblings, cousins, etc., it is quite possible that when you become a first time mother, it’s the first time you’ve ever cared for an infant. This can be scary! An infant is a lot of responsibility. As Andrea said, she eventually got into the groove of motherhood and found her identity. I think it should also be noted that this is common for women who are second, third or fourth time mothers as well. An infant comes with many wonderful and exciting changes, but also naturally introduces chaos into the family dynamic in the beginning. So how can you plan for this so the transition to motherhood is as smooth as possible?
A postpartum birth plan is something I would highly recommend. OB/GYN’s and midwives always talk about a birth plan, and a postpartum recovery birth plan, though equally important, is often overlooked. There are a lot of wonderful postpartum birth plans you can find through various prenatal/postpartum organizations, and a postpartum doula is someone who can also be immensely helpful in assisting you with this plan. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.
Having support is key during the postpartum phase. It really does take a village to raise a child from day one. Planning for the postpartum phase is a good time to take inventory of your village. Regarding your support system, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who in my life can provide practical support? Who can I rely upon to help with domestic chores around the house, such as laundry, cooking and cleaning?
- If I already have a child, who can help with childcare when the baby comes?
- Who is my professional medical team? Does my OB/GYN and/or midwife seem invested in my postpartum recovery? Who will by infant’s pediatrician be? Do I have referrals/contact information for counselors, psychologists and prescribers should I have any issues with PPD/PPA?
- Who in my support network can help provide validation, encouragement, empathy and emotional support when I have questions about the baby or my new parenting skills?
- What will my partner’s role be when the baby comes? Is my partner able to look out for signs of postpartum depression/anxiety/adjustment challenges?
- Who can I rely upon that can help give me a break so I can have my own time to rest, take a shower, eat a meal, etc?
- Who can help provide positive distraction if I’m feeling down and needing encouragement or some humor? Who can help remind me to enjoy things?
- Who can keep me company during the day if I’m alone with the baby and my partner is out of the house and I’m feeling lonely?
- Do I know any fellow new mothers who I can text in the middle of the night if I’m feeling isolated or bored while I’m feeding the baby?
Along the same line, it would be helpful to take an inventory of people who may not be so helpful during the postpartum recovery time, who you know you may not be able to rely upon during such an intense time. This way, you’re setting yourself up for success rather than disappointment and dismay.
If you have trouble asking for help, now is the time to really challenge that. You’ve got this, mama.